Archive for May, 2011

31st May
written by Randy

Today I started a new job. With the exception of a few weeks working short contracts for extra spending money, I really haven’t had a job since last October, when my engagement ended after a year with a company I had hoped to stay with.

In a break from what has been my pattern for the past several years, this is a full-time position — that is to say that it’s a long-term commitment, rather than a contract. Several people have remarked that it must have been a really exciting opportunity for me to make that decision, and they’re right: it really is an exciting opportunity.

I’ll be in a position to do what I love, and to help others learn to love it the way I do. I’ll be working with people I respect, and with whom I enjoy working. And as part of my generous compensation package, I have gotten a commitment to allow me more to travel much more than what a typical person is allowed in a normal American company — the most important detail that led to me accepting the offer.

Now I’m excited to find out where this will lead, and in what other new ways my year will be amazing as a result of this!

26th May
written by Randy

On my minimalist path to owning 100 items or less this year, I have sold a lot of things on Craigslist — a lot! — and I’m starting to get kind of good at it. I’ve figured out a few tricks to getting good results, quickly.

The most important thing to do when selling something on Craigslist is to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. Ask yourself “would this ad interest me?” If you were looking for this item, would this price interest you? Would these details interest you?

Often when people list an item on Craigslist, they write a simple title, and an uninformative one-sentence description of the item. Many times they don’t even include a photo. I don’t know about you, but I want to know about an item before I buy it.

Photos are a must. There is a box on the search that lets people see only the results with photos. Don’t let your ad be filtered out before it ever has a chance. It takes a few minutes to snap a photo and attach it to your ad. Do it.

Use a descriptive title. List important details: manufacturer, model number, color, size. You’ll get more people to look at an add for “Apple iPad 16gb WiFi only” than you’ll get for “ipad wifi”, just like an ad for a “Canon EOS Rebel XSi digital SLR camera” will attract more attention than an ad for “Canon Rebel dSLR”.

Give a detailed description of the item for sale. Far too often I see people write a short, one-sentence description of the item for sale. Ads like that scare me off. Knowledge is power, give people knowledge and let them feel powerful.

When I list an item on Craigslist, I begin with a descriptive sentence, usually formed by copying the title I used, and adding “in excellent condition” to the end. Then, I add a bullet-list of information about the item, telling the important features and what is included with it. Details like “in original box”, and “includes original manual” do a lot to attract responses.

Check your spelling. Read, re-read, proofread your ad. Make sure you’ve spelled everything correctly, especially the important details like brand name and model number. These are details that people are searching on, if you misspell them, you may never show up in a search. But even if you do, spelling is still very important. People feel safer buying from someone who writes properly.

Set a reasonable price. Let’s be realistic. This is Craigslist. You’re probably not going to sell a used item and get back what you paid for it. If there’s not much difference between your price and the brand new cost, people will prefer to buy new and get the warranty.

As I said above, put yourself in your buyer’s shoes. Would that price attract you? If a new camera is $250, I probably won’t buy a used one for $200, but at $175 it might be a good deal. A new iPad at $500 (plus tax) doesn’t cost significantly more than the used one at $450, and it’s guaranteed to have never been dropped, but I might take the chance on a used one for $375.

Expect attempts to negotiate. People want to feel like they got a bargain. Whatever price you set, make sure you’ve left room for the buyer to try to talk you down. If you’re willing to take $375 for that iPad, list it for $400. If you’re willing to take $175 for that camera, list it for $190.

Use the rule of give-and-take. Most people play their cards too soon. They will try to get you to reduce the price during the email or phone call. When they do this, they give you the upper hand! You’ve already priced the item with room to come down, so you’re not losing anything. When they ask you to take a reduced price, tell them “I can do that if you come today. If I have to wait, I know I’ll get what I’m asking.” Now this person will feel the pressure to come right away lest they risk losing a great deal.

Never deal with someone you don’t like. You don’t have to respond to every email you get. If you get offers you don’t like, just ignore them. If you don’t like the way someone writes, or you think they seem rude, don’t respond. Don’t worry… if you’ve written a descriptive ad, used a photo, and set an attractive price, you’ll get another response soon enough.

When I sold my iMac, it was more than three years old, yet I sold it in one day and got more than 70% of what I had paid for it. When I listed my original 16gb iPad for $375 (price firm), I got more than 25 responses to the ad in just the first hour!

Over the past few months, I’ve sold furniture, lamps, tools, DVDs, video games, cameras, film, lighting gear, darkroom equipment, video gear, and computer equipment… and I’ve continued to pay my rent every month, without a job, while I traveled all over the world. When you know what you’re doing, you can get a lot on Craigslist.

21st May
written by Randy

I’ve made real, measurable progress, and I’m finally starting to feel less like I’m suffering and more like I’m working toward something cool.

As I said from the start, this was really intimidating to me — perhaps the most intimidating challenge I’ve ever taken on before. So with that in mind, I didn’t want to go out and buy a bunch of expensive running gear, only to give up a few weeks later — especially since running gear will count toward my minimalism challenge.

Now that I have made it through a few weeks of running, and I’ve skipped far fewer runs than I thought I would, I decided it’s time to take this seriously. So this week, I bought a proper pair of running shoes. What a difference!

I had been running in cross-trainers. All my life I thought that cross-trainers were built to do everything (hence the name cross-trainers) so that’s the only kind of athletic shoes I’ve ever bought. As it turns out, I was very wrong.

Cross trainers are built to give your foot side-to-side stability. They’re made for unpredictable movements, to prevent injury. But they are not intended for the long distance repetition of one specific motion. In short, most of my knee pain can probably be blamed on wearing the wrong shoes.

Running shoes don’t bother with the side-to-side support, which allows them to be much lighter. They also have a lot of padding in the heel, since that is the single place where they will get the most use.

Your foot hits the ground completely differently in running shoes than it does in cross-trainers, and it pushes off differently, too. Due to this, my first two days in the new shoes led to terrible calf cramps because I am using muscles I wasn’t previously using. But my legs adjusted quickly.

Now that I’ve got proper running shoes (Adidas Marathon 10, if you must know), not only do my knees not hurt anymore, but I also feel as if I’m using less energy. I don’t get as sore and I recover faster.

Today, I ran 6km (just short of four miles) and did it in approximately 40 minutes. Both the distance and the time are improvements for me, and I can’t help thinking the shoes made the difference.

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17th May
written by Randy

In the spirit of the minimalism challenge I’ve taken on this year, I’m really excited about the idea of the Minimalist Weekend… mostly because this is the perfect excuse for me to test out an experiment I’ve been wanting to do: travel with no luggage whatsoever.

So when the weekend of June 4-5 arrives, I’m going to fly to Houston and visit my friend Tanisha, who I met in Bologna during my trip to Italy this January, and when I go, I will not take any luggage whatsoever.

I’m really looking forward to this, because it will give me an extreme “test run” for my theories about future travels!

But what are you going to do? This weekend is for everyone… you don’t even have to be a minimalist! In fact, if you’re not currently a minimalist, but you’ve been curious about it, this is an excellent opportunity for you to give it a try for 48 hours and see what you think.

And if you are a minimalist, there’s really no excuse for you not participating. So get creative! Do something interesting. Make a few waves.

Here are some ideas for things you could do:

  • Don’t turn on your television or computer for the whole weekend.
  • Use only one plate, one fork, one knife, and one glass, and one frying pan.
  • Spend the weekend boxing up all the things you no longer use.
  • Give up the car. Walk or bike everywhere.
  • Ditch all the contents of your pockets and spend an entire weekend with only a bank card, an ID, and a house key.

Try something new. Push your boundaries. For 48 hours, test how much you can do without. I’ve even heard rumor of one person who might try to spend the entire weekend homeless!

What will you do?

8th May
written by Randy

While I still have a long way to go, I’m happy to say that I’m making great progress! It seems like it wasn’t very long ago that I was utterly exhausted after running a pitiful 1km.

Last week, I got up to 3km, but it required several walking breaks, and I finished with an intolerable level of pain, including a terrible jaw pain for which I intended to work out the source.

I am excited to report that this week, I’ve continued to make progress, and I’m now running over 4km, with few short walking breaks. My finishing time for 4km this week is ~35 minutes, which is a huge improvement over the ~40 minute finish time last week for 3km.

More importantly, the pain is much better. I switched to earbuds, rather than in-ear phones, and have since run in different conditions, from moderate to cold and windy, and have not had the same jaw pain. I’m going to presume that the culprit was my Apple noise-reducing in-ear headphones.

As reported last week, I’ve also begun working on my off-days toward goals of 100 push-ups and 200 situps. I’ve lost some strength in the 5 months since quitting my gym. Presently, I’m doing 20 pushups and 40 situps before resting. I can do more after a short rest, but the idea is to get through them without it.

Those numbers are both 20% of the goal, which is better than my running distance, which is only about 12%. But I’m doing well and making progress, so that’s exciting. There’s still a lot of time, so I have no cause for worry.

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2nd May
written by Randy

The term organic has become somewhat of a catch-all label, used by the food industry to attract easy sales (often at a significant markup!) from people who want to eat better, but who just simply don’t know how. These corporate interest throw out terms like organic, and its cousin green, and uninformed treehuggers come running to spend their money.

Like so many of my complaints these days, this organic food trend is huge in the United States, and practically non-existent when I travel. Are we the only responsible country? Actually, no. The truth is, we’re the only country that is so utterly irresponsible that we need to invent a market sector to promote responsibility.

But what is responsible food, then?

First and foremost, it means actually preparing your food using fresh ingredients, rather than opening a package or box or can. It means shopping around the outer edge of the grocery store, and avoiding the things in the aisles.

This is an important change, and it’s an essential first step toward improving your diet and your health. Not only does freezing, canning, dry-packing, and processing foods rob them of nutritional value, but it also requires the addition of preservatives, and chemicals whose sole purpose is to maintain an attractive color, or to prevent mixtures from separating. And that’s before you think about the artificial sweeteners, flavor, and colors.

After making the emphasis on fresh ingredients, the next major concern for me is that it must be healthy. There is a lot of talk about GMOs (genetically modified foods), but on first thought, I actually can’t think of a particular reason why this would necessarily be bad.

For me, it’s much more important that vegetables be free of pesticides, and that meat is free from antibiotics and disease. You can usually count on this being reflected in the term organic, but not always. Where possible, I prefer specific terms like “no pesticides”, “grass fed”, “free range”, etc., though even still, I would rather see even more specific language, such as “no antibiotics.”

And one last issue of extreme importance to me, when it comes to food being responsible, is the effect a food has on the economy and on the environment. They seem like seperate ideas, but I find a high correllation between products that are economically responsible and products that have a low carbon-footprint. Shipping food all over the world not only uses a lot of fossil fuels, but those resources cost money, as does the labor involved in moving the products. Those costs are often not reflected in the cost of goods at the store.

Common sense says that it should be cheaper to bring in food from the farm next door than it is to ship food over on a boat from South America, load it in trains and send it all over the US, then send it on trucks to the stores that will sell it. It doesn’t take a genius to imagine that! So how are those goods available at lower cost than their more responsible counterparts?

The reason bad foods are cheaper is… subsidies. The huge multinational corporations responsible for all that food have a lot of lobbying power and they get enormous tax breaks and government subsidies, which allow them to operate a higher-cost operation while selling their products at a lower-cost, and still earning a profit.

Buying subsidized foods is not economically responsible. Every dollar I give to a company that outsources food production and jobs to another country is the same as a vote: it’s me telling the government and the food industry that I don’t care. But I do care. I care about the economy, I care about jobs, I care about the environment, and I also care about the health standards that growers in America must meet, which aren’t imposed on growers in other countries.

Therefore, when buying food, the most responsible thing you can do is find small, local farms from which to get your vegetables, milk, meat, poultry, etc, or try to do as much shopping as possible in local farmers markets. Failing this, you’ll have to spend a lot of time investigating labels in places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, but it’s still better for everyone if you do this than it is to keep supporting the corrupt system we have.

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